EAST HAMPTON, Long Island (WABC) -- Officials in East Hampton voted unanimously Thursday night to ban the intentional release of balloons in the town.
Those found violating the ban would face up to a $1,000 fine and up to 15 days in jail - the same punishment for littering.
"Balloons end up in our waterways, they end up in our marine animal life," said East Hampton Town Trustee Susan McGraw Keber, who has been spearheading the legislation.
People often release balloons as part of graduation ceremonies, weddings and memorial services. Keber said she was contacted in December by those with the Surfrider Foundation about creating a ban.
"This isn't really meant to be a law that targets a child on his or her birthday who accidentally releases a balloon," said Colleen Henn, with the Surfrider Foundation. "We really don't want to be punishing those children. But we would Ike to educate the public about what happens when you do release a balloon."
Henn said balloons can kill marine life and birds and pollute the water. She said since 2017, the Surfrider Foundation has conducted 18 beaches clean-ups at East Hampton Town beaches and found 194 balloons, which averages more than 10 balloons per beach.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said he doesn't believe many people in East Hampton intentionally release balloons, but he said the legislation is meant to send a message.
"We just want to make people aware all across the country that when you release a balloon It has serious consequences," he said.
Those in the balloon industry contend that latex balloons are biodegradable and that studies have proven it. However, The Balloon Council, a national organization compromised of retailers, distributors and manufacturers of foil and latex balloons, discourages the intentional release of balloons.
"Our message is simple," said Lorna O'Hara, with The Balloon Council. "Balloons should never be released, and our motto is, 'Don't let go. Weight. Inflate. Enjoy.' We prefer education over legislation."
Under Suffolk County law, it is legal to intentionally release up to 25 balloons in a 24-hour span. Anyone found violating the rule faces fines from $500 to $1,500.
Suffolk County legislator Bridget Fleming told Eyewitness News reporter Kristin Thorne she is interested in exploring how to better restrict the intentional release of balloons at the county level. She said it appears the balloon release law is rarely enforced.
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Long Island town bans intentional release of balloons